Monday, June 05, 2006

Is Globalization for Everyone?

Tibor R. Machan

Mostly “globalization” is used to refer to the policy of extending the
principles of a free market, capitalist political economy beyond the
borders of countries where they have taken substantial root. These
principles then would have global scope, produce a global free market.

Opponents of the effort to globalize often suggest that they find it
wrongheaded to try to subject all countries to the same kind of economic
principles because, well, countries—people—are different. While it may be
fine for the U.S.A. or Great Britain to be governed mainly by principles
of free trade, the story goes, this will not work for much of Africa or
the Middle East. Cultures differ, as do individuals, so it isn’t true that
what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander.

The point has plausibility. Regarding innumerable matters it holds quite
true. People, for example, do not need the same type of shoes, shirts, or
gloves—it depends on various particulars what they ought to be wearing.
The same is true about what people should eat, what careers they should
train for, whether they should marry or not, etc., and so forth. Yet,
there are also matters wherein variety isn’t quite the ticket. And indeed
quite a few people who would not ordinarily be expected to advocate
globalization seem to agree.

I have been doing quite a lot of traveling around the globe over the last
few decades—most recently I visited South Africa to attend an ethics
conference, for example. And on several fronts it appears that
globalization is very eagerly embraced even by those who resist it when it
comes to political economy.

Take, for example, bans on smoking in public places. It seems that there
is a very fervent effort afoot to globalize bans on public smoking,
indeed—everywhere one goes to, especially in airports, airplanes and so
forth, bans on smoking are being put in place. Sure, many, many people
dislike these bans but to no avail. Why? Because those pushing for the
bans insist that subjecting people to cigarette smoke is wrong. And while
one might quibble about whether one really can universalize such a policy,
there seems to be some plausibility about it—after all, most people have
lungs and these would seem to be at risk for exposure to cigarette smoke.
And when the exposure is imposed on them without their consent, that would
seem to be especially objectionable.

Now I do not wish to take up the matter of secondhand smoking—I am, at
any rate, convinced that more is made of it than is justified by the
evidence. Still, certainly there are several practices people take up that
can be argued to be nearly universally harmful and the effort to
discourage them globally would appear to make sense.

Well, the same is true about going global with the principles of free
market, capitalist economics—free trade, to put it quite simply. These
principles are arguably right for us all, never mind in which corner of
the globe we live. Why? Because they give expression to something
universal about human beings, namely, their need to enjoy freedom from
interference from others.

That’s all there really is to free trade, namely, the removal of
impositions by governments on those who would engage in trade. It is no
different from advocating global removal of censorship or assault or
kidnapping. Who would wish to claim that while it may be OK to ban
censorship of literature, poetry, editorializing and so forth in the
U.S.A., doing so in China or North Korea would be misguided—those people
must have government tell them what to think and write?

Come to think of it, some folks may, in fact, try to sell us this idea
but they would be way off. That’s because it is a universal human need to
be free to think, say, and write what one chooses, not confined merely to
some of us, here and there, in this age or that. And globalization has to
do with the same thing: freedom for people anytime, anywhere to carry out
their commercial affairs without uninvited parties meddling in them.

Now it is true that when trade is free of such interference, some could
see benefiting a bit from certain restrictions on others. If I own a
coffee shop in a certain corner of the city in which I live, I might
benefit for a while from forbidding others to open one across the street
from mine. Protectionist measures like that—be they on the street where on
has a shop or in a large region of the world where one is doing
business—do hold out some promise of temporary benefits, though economists
have shown just how temporary they tend to be, given that what goes around
tends to come around.

There are many aspects of human life that should not be generalized—what
kind of food one is to have for breakfast, probably, what line of work one
should embark upon, what form of entertainment will be most satisfying,
what clothes one should wear, etc., and so forth. Even in medicine, where
some basic rules of good health can be generalized, the specifics can vary
a great deal from one person to another.

But just as those who champion discouraging everyone from polluting his
or her lungs via smoking, regardless of where in the world this might be
happening, it is also true, even more so, that freedom of trade is
something none ought to thwart. Globalization is a good thing, indeed,
provided it is properly understood to apply to basic principles of human
conduct, be this in matters of health or matters of economics.

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